Some people over the age of 60 run marathons, but many older adults rely on the assistance of others to shop at the grocery store, run errands, use technology, avoid loneliness and maintain quality of life—and there may be someone living in your neighborhood who you can help.
A recent report shows there are about 3.65 million residents age 65 or older in Texas and approximately 36 percent of them live with a disability. Pre-pandemic, Texas had the fifth-highest rate of senior food insecurity nationwide with 11% of Texas older adults living at risk of hunger—and social isolation has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Drive A Senior ATX has been trying to solve this problem and enrich the lives of older adults living in Central Texas for over 36 years by providing clients with volunteer-based transportation, handyman services, social visits and tech assistance.
In Austin’s North Central and West Central areas, volunteers help enable older citizens to age in place, allowing them to live independently by driving them to medical appointments, grocery stores, beauty shops, craft stores and virtually anywhere else a client wants to go—but they are much more than free Uber drivers.
“Volunteers really are the meat and potatoes of our agency. They become like family with the seniors, some of them drive one client in particular regularly,” Executive Director Stephanie Lane said. “We have over 300 volunteers, but we need way more. We really do have a shortage right now.”
“Senior Sidekicks” are paired with a client for weekly check-ins to address their grocery needs, “friendly callers” converse via phone call with their client at least once a month, and every client receives homemade baked goods in December for the holidays. Recently, Drive A Senior ATX delivered 100 emergency kits to older adults in response to February’s winter storm.
Additionally, when the tech divide kept seniors from getting vaccinated, Drive A Senior ATX worked closely with Austin Public Health and the city of Austin to establish an exclusive number for seniors to call to register for and schedule their COVID-19 vaccination, then picked them up and drove them to their appointments.
Lane was raised by her grandparents and said though the organization’s mission is transportation, its impact is building meaningful and lasting relationships with older adults. More than a service, it provides an additional quality of life for everyone involved.
“Making that connection with older people is something our culture has lost,” Lane said. “Once a volunteer does a drive with us, they get hooked because they miss their grandparents, they miss their parents and it kind of fills that void that we, as a community, have strayed so far away from.”
A life-changing utility for clients, Lane said the valuable exchange for volunteers who get involved is the opportunity to learn how to slow down, engage and enjoy the small moments in life.
“[Clients] are just happy to see you and they’re so grateful for a ride. They’re so grateful just for a phone call,” Lane said. “The vibe of it is just so positive and it’s so meaningful. I think my favorite thing about my job is helping the community realize what they’re missing without being around seniors and seeing them find it and absolutely love it.”
Volunteers use their smartphone or computer to sign up for different rides and services that are available up to months ahead of time. All training is done online and there are no minimum requirements.
Visit www.driveasenioratx.org to volunteer or if you know an older adult who could benefit from the services Drive a Senior ATX provides.
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